Beavers' spring game analysis
CORVALLIS — The scoreboard read "Defense 77, Offense 65." The official count was a little different — "Defense 72, Offense 69."
Didn't matter much to Gary Andersen.
"We could have put it on the 2-yard line and run one play for the win," the third-year Oregon State coach said after the Spring Game at Reser Stadium. "But it was a good, competitive day. We had some success on both sides."
Andersen had planned for members of the winning side to be rewarded with a better postgame meal than the losers.
"They're all going to have the same meal," he said. "It was fairly even."
The 100-play scrimmage to wrap up "spring practice" — which ended several days before spring actually begins — was scored under a modified system, with the offense getting additional points for 20-yard-plus plays and three or more consecutive first downs, the defense scoring via such things as defensive touchdowns (12), takeaways (six), three-and-outs (three) and sacks (two).
In the end, the defense prevailed, even in somewhat murky fashion.
"Who knows what the scoring (system) was?" Andersen said with a laugh. The scrimmage, he said, "was highly contested."
"If I knew how the point thing worked, it might be more meaningful," defensive coordinator Kevin Clune said. "But whatever it takes, it's always good to win."
Some observations on the Beavers' wrap-up to spring drills:
• After a wet winter of "spring football" and a rainy Saturday morning, the clouds opened and sun shone on the afternoon scrimmage session witnessed by perhaps 4,000 pleasantly surprised fans.
"We've been outside twice — the last two practices," Andersen said. "It was great weather today."
"I'm just glad the sun came out," quarterback Marcus McMaryion said. "All the quarterbacks were, 'Yeah, we can throw the ball today.'"
• The coaches aren't willing to say it, and it's not etched in stone. But if the season were to begin tomorrow, Jake Luton would be the starting quarterback.
The 6-7 JC transfer completed 13 of 21 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown, including a 37-yard strike to a diving Isaiah Hodgins for 37 yards on the first possession of the day.
"We all know (Luton) can spin it," Andersen said. "We just have to give him the opportunity."
McMaryion, who started the last half of last season, was 9 for 14 passing for 126 yards and one TD — a 68-yard bomb to Hunter Jarmon.
Darell Garretson, who started the first half of last season before being lost with a broken ankle, connected on 8 of 11 passes for 66 yards and two scores.
"They all have different things," Andersen said. "Darell has come off the injury well. Marcus has gone back and forth as a starter and bench player, and handled his situation as a class individual. Jake has come in here with everything brand new and done extremely well. I'm proud of all three of them.
"I truly believe we have three quarterbacks who can manage the game in the Pac-12. That's probably the most important part, and we have three kids who can do that. Then it comes down to who can make the special plays. That's what we'll continue to evaluate."
Asked when he would name a starter, Andersen was vague.
"I'm not a big believer in holding a press conference for a starting quarterback," he said. "They'll continue to battle through it."
• Luton has the best arm and good feet. As a redshirt freshman at Idaho in 2015, he rushed for five touchdowns.
The biggest concern now is his health. He weighed 235 pounds when I interviewed him in January but has struggled with a stomach ailment since then.
"It's bothered me for two months," he said. "I've lost about 20 pounds. But (doctors) did a lot of testing and have me on some medication. I'm feeling good. I think we have it taken care of now."
• Garretson is not fully healed from his ankle injury.
"I'm not at 100 percent by any means," the 6-foot, 210-pound senior said. "But I'm working through it, rehabbing it, and it's going well."
How does he see the quarterback competition?
"It's tough when you're going up against guys like Jake and Marcus," Garretson said. "They do some really good things. They get the ball to people. They're doing a good job."
• Jarmon had a huge game, with five catches for 155 yards, including touchdowns covering 68 and 60 yards. The 5-11, 195-pound wideout — who caught five passes for 44 yards last season — may be poised for a big senior year.
Also impressive was Hodgins, who enrolled for winter term after graduating early from high school in Oakley, California. The 6-4, 210-pound true freshman had four receptions for 69 yards and looks as if he'll challenge for a starting spot in August camp at Bend.
Hodgins, incidentally, wore No. 7 Saturday, as did senior receiver Xavier Hawkins, who went 39 yards on a fly sweep. When he signed with the Beavers, Hodgins was promised he could wear No. 7. Unless Hawkins acquiesces — and that could happen — the youngster will have to wait a year.
• The offense struck gold on the opening play Saturday, tailback Ryan Nall taking a handoff, roaming right and then throwing to an all-alone Jarmon for 60 yards and a touchdown. The play, Nall said, was his idea.
"I've been bugging the coaches for a year to give me a halfback pass," he said. "The last practice, Coach (Kevin) McGiven said, 'We're going to draw it up on the board.' I said, 'Are you serious?' So we practiced it. I threw it once and he was like, 'We'll see how it goes.' I said, 'Why don't we just start the game off with the halfback pass? They'll never see it coming.'
"Sure enough, it was there. (Jarmon) released, I was like, 'I just got to get it there.' I was throwing into the wind, it was a little bit wobbly, but it worked."
After the play, Jarmon ran over and jumped into the student section of the stands, and was followed by several of his teammates. It was a scene that reminded of the one featuring Garretson after he scored the winning touchdown in the Beavers' overtime victory over California last season.
"I told (Jarmon) before the scrimmage started, a celebration was highly encouraged on this day, and this day only," Andersen said with a grin.
The 6-2, 240-pound Nall also rushed seven times for 72 yards, including a 37-yard touchdown.
• During the first two spring games of the Andersen era, the Beavers were low in numbers and could hardly field enough players for a scrimmage. They're still a little short on the offensive line, but they had enough depth to put on a pretty good show Saturday. It was a barometer of progress in the program.
"A lot of times in spring games, you're just trying to survive," Andersen said. "That was not the case today.
"It was good competition — a big, strong, physical practice. I asked the kids to compete at a high level, like it was an aggressive spring practice, and they did that. They handled the 'thud' part of it very well. The kids had a great energy about them. It will be a very worthwhile (video) to evaluate."
• Andersen's biggest priority for next season is to improve Oregon State's pass offense. He considered what he saw Saturday as a step in the right direction. He also indicated that much will depend on how well the offensive line fills holes left by three starters from a year ago.
"It was apparent than when we pass-protect, we can function at a pretty high level in the throw game," the OSU mentor said. "When we can't protect, and when we don't go get contested balls, we don't function at a very high level."
• The Beavers had three linebackers with significant game experience — junior Bright Ugwoegbu and sophomores Shemar Smith and Joah Robinett — rehabbing from injuries. So, plenty of young linebackers saw action Saturday, including true freshman Emony Robinson, redshirt freshmen Doug Taumoelau, Hamilcar Rashed, Nick Janakes and Kee Whetzel and sophomores Andrzej Hughes-Murray, Ricky Liuchan and Shemiah Unutoa-Whitson.
"Especially for the outside (linebackers), the young guys got some good work," Clune said. "Those reps will be valuable to those guys going into (August) camp."
Said Andersen: "They're developing. It will be nice to have Bright back and have Khee back him up for a year. The young outside 'backers came grew through the spring. They're athletic kids. But soon they'll be thrown out here on a Pac-12 field against really good players, so we have work to do."
• Jaydon Grant had an interception in the end zone on a deep pass to Jarmon. It was the third pick in the last two scrimmages for Grant, a 6-foot, 175-pound redshirt freshman cornerback from West Linn who happens to be the son of former Trail Blazers forward Brian Grant.
Grant, a walk-on, missed the early part of spring ball with a shoulder injury. Since then, he has made his presence felt.
"Jaydon is a playmaker and a very competitive young man," Andersen said. "He's very coachable. Some of that comes from Pops, I'd imagine. I'm sure he's been pushed very hard to excel on and off the field. He's a great addition to our program. He went through an injury, got himself back, and he's had a solid spring."
Said Clune: "It may not be this year. It may be down the road, but some day Jaydon will help us, whether it's at cornerback, safety or special teams. He needs to develop his body and get some experience, but he's making the most of his opportunities."
Brian Grant was in the stands, watching in Beavers gear.
"Jaydon is having a ball," he said. "I'm just hoping he can stay healthy."
• Cornerback Christian Wallace played only the second half, but you can't miss the redshirt freshman — 6-1, 220, fast and physical.
"He's coming along," Clune said of the former prep quarterback. "It's all brand new for him. There's a lot of stuff he's trying to synthesize. He'll get there."
• Andersen got into the spirit of the day, being as good a sport as a Pac-12 head coach can be. During between-quarter activities with fan participation, Andersen held for a place-kick, pushed a competitor in the rolling ball race and took part in field-a-punt competition, however unsuccessfully.
"I want spring games to be fun," he said. "I want the kids to enjoy it. It was a great weekend, with activities for our seniors, alumni, player families and some recruits. And the fans got to see these kids play for the first time (since the 2016 season). I had some juice out there."